Pictures & Scripts is a 2015 series of 20 paintings by John Baldessari (B. 1931) composed of still images from black and white films with excerpts from fictitious, narrative film scripts. The images are removed from their context and capture moments of paused action, which can be interpreted in multiple ways. Displayed alongside the image, these lines of text work to recontextualize the meaning of the image, and to add new life to their original purpose.
The images drawn from the films are cropped so that the characters and actions are ambiguous and taken away from their dramatic context. The images are then given new narratives – equally ambiguous ones, taken out of the larger dialogue – so that the viewer can create his or her own unique interpretation. The works are reminiscent of the 1920s film theorist Lev Kuleshov’s texts on editing and montage, which allow certain conclusions about the action in a film simply based on context. Viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential “shots” rather than from a single shot in isolation, he argued, and the relationship between the two (in this case, the text and the image), is what creates drama and interest.
Like much of Baldessari’s work, a certain blend of humor and self-deprecation can be detected in the pieces, and the excerpts of dialogue are between unknown characters but hint at conversations between art world insiders, making statements about the art industry. In one piece, an image depicting a pair of treasure hunters is paralleled by a conversation between and art critic and companion, working to categorize a work. The irony is palpable.
And of course, it is no accident that I chose this artwork because it features a conversation between an Art Critic and his Wife, Gail. Because that is just too perfect.
Honey — What Words Come to Mind? (2015) was Photographed in The Broad Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.